Dr Sean Kearney, an academic from The University of Notre Dame was awarded the ‘New Voice’ In Educational Leadership Research Scholarship NSW 2015 from the Australian Council for Educational Leadership (ACEL), for his work on the induction of new teachers and assessment reform in higher education.

“We lose too many teachers in the first few years of their career and my research has focused on the need to support, nurture and retain them,” Kearney says.

Kearney was inspired to begin his research in 2007, following his own experience as a beginning teacher as part of the first cohort of New Scheme teachers in New South Wales.

“When I first got to my first teaching position I was hired fulltime and no one at the school seemed to know about the new scheme, how induction and mentoring should work, so I was really left on my own to kind of figure out the accreditation process,” Kearney explains.

“The NSW Institute of teachers said that induction and mentoring was something that we would take part in, [but] that never occurred for me or many of my peers who I graduated with.” 

As part of his PhD studies, Kearney approached all 78 independent schools in NSW at the time, waiting almost a year for 10 to agree to participate in his study.

Kearney says his research found mentoring was haphazardly enforced, and that there was no agreed upon structure for induction and mentoring in these schools.

“We wouldn’t expect every school to implement it in the same way, but teachers’ experiences were not positive. 

“They would get to schools and even that many years after the implementation of these framework standards, teachers really weren’t being given the support and the encouragement necessary to meet the requirements of beginning teachers, and in addition to that, endure the accreditation process.”

Based on his findings, Kearney says there were some key factors preventing most schools from implementing an effective induction program.

“I would say the No.1 reason was knowledge around what the induction and mentoring means, knowledge about how to implement an effective program, and not too far behind both of those, was cost.

“Many of the schools had what they call informal programs but ... they were little more than just getting to know your colleagues, which you would do at any job.”

Kearney completed his scholarship-winning research in 2012, however his findings still prove relevant today.

“There are current studies out now that suggest that 35 to 50 per cent of teachers in Australia leave the profession within the first five
years, and my suggestion would be it’s because they’re not supported in those first few years of teaching,” Kearney says.

“That ‘sink or swim’ mentality still permeates many of our schools.”

To improve professional development for those new to the profession, Kearney says some important changes could be made to induction programs.

“One would be training of mentors. So simply being an experienced teacher does not mean that you know how to mentor beginning teachers,” he says.

“Other things are time-release, both for beginning teachers and the mentors.

“Collaboration between beginning teachers and more experienced colleagues [is one] and maybe the knowledge around what induction and mentoring are meant to accomplish. Often those terms are used interchangably and they don’t mean the same thing.”